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Marti

rat care

Applying For Rats From Me

If you want rats from me, send me a message or go on Facebook and find Blue Apple Rattery and message me there. You’ll be given an auto message with an email address. But before you do that, please read this!

Like any good breeder, I want to make sure my rats go to people who love rats, are willing to learn everything they can to keep them healthy and happy, and can provide their housing, food, and veterinary needs for the whole of their relatively short lives.

There are so many rats that end up purchased by well-meaning people only to be passed on when the landlord discovers with horror that there are pet rats in the place (heaven forfend!) or a child loses interest, or the owner gets bored. I’ve had many “rescue rats” due to such circumstances and I am determined that the rats I breed do not end up being rehomed.

If you adopt rats from me you agree that, should you be unable to look after them in the future, you will return them to me.

Generally, don’t get rats unless you are 100% sure you can keep them. This means your landlord or housemates aren’t against the idea or allergic, that you can afford them, that you agree to look after them for their entire lives. If for some reason you cannot, ring and we’ll see what can be arranged, however. I usually have a lot of people who want rats and might be able to find a suitable home.

If you don’t have enough money for veterinary bills, I suggest you put a minimum of £100 away for every rat you plan to keep and, only then, adopt rats. Anyone’s rats — not just mine. My experience with rats is that they will get at least one upper respiratory infection, costing close to 50 pounds for the vet visit and medication,  and one “put to sleep” visit, costing about the same later in their lives.

There can be many other costs associated with rats. You may find you need to spay or have a tumour removed from your rat. Costs vary but my vet will charge about £120-180 for a spay. Not every rat will need tumour removal or spaying, but it’s good to know you have the funds available if this should turn out to be the case.

Your rats’ quality of life is very important. They are such smart, active, curious creatures that they really need to come out daily for about an hour to “free-range” either in a secure room or a large enclosure (I can help you with ideas on this). I have a play pen as well as time out on my sofa while I watch movies. They climb on me, go through tunnels, investigate the book shelf, and generally have a nice time. Because I have both males and females, I have to make sure that each group comes out. It’s a commitment!

Of course, the rats won’t die if they don’t come out of their cage daily…so if you do miss a day here or there, don’t worry. I’m just trying to give you an idea of what you’re getting yourself into by getting rats!

So…what happens when you go away for holiday? You can’t just leave them with nobody to attend to them. You’ll need to find a family member or pet service that will check on them daily.  Of course, if it is only overnight, you can add an extra water bottle and a big bowl of food and you’ll probably be fine, but don’t turn off the heat! Rats can adjust to colder temperatures but not all at once! I keep mine somewhere between 16-21…the summers can be hard as they don’t like it too hot. It’s difficult to keep temperatures moderate during a very hot summer or cold winter and this is why I insist that any baby rats of mine be kept in your house and not in a shed or garage. I can help you with ideas for keeping your rats warm enough, for cooling them down, for making sure they thrive, but only if they are in a house or flat, not outdoors.

Rats need company. I’ve found very few exceptions to the rule that all rats must be kept in a minimum of pairs. This is why I prefer to home rats in trios, not in pairs. It is so easy to lose a rat at, say, 20 months old and have their sister or brother go on to live six additional months or more. If you have a very elderly rat that really is on its last legs you may choose to keep him or her alone for a couple of weeks prior to saying goodbye to that rat. In fact, that may be the kindest thing if the rat is very infirm. However, for the most part, you really need to keep rats with other rats. One great reason to join the the National Fancy Rat Society is so that you can post on their forum “WANTED” section if you find yourself in this position (the forum is also a great place to get health and breeding information).

People will be more than willing to help you either by supplying you with a couple of baby rats or even finding a rat of approximately the same age with which you can pair your singleton rat. That is, if they can.

Do you have the room for a rat cage? It seems a silly question but these cages are BIG. In fact, if you want to make your life a lot easier, get a couple of cages. One would be smallish, the sort of thing you can keep three baby rats in for a week or so and then use as a “hospital” or travel cage in the future. I have a Savic Ruffy 2 cage that I’d never keep rats in permanently because it is way too small even for 2 rats. However, I find it fits nicely into my car when I take my rats away with me overnight (which, yes, I do!) or when I take a few to shows. It has been an old rats’ cage for my extremely elderly rats who can no longer climb and a honeymoon suite for a pair of rats I hope to mate. I love the cage, though it is not perfect (the door is on the top so you have to swoop in eagle-style to pick up a rat!). At home, my rats are in a Savic Suite Royale, a giant cage with two levels. However, a trio of rats all be quite happy in something like a Furplast Freddy 2 or a Freddy 2 Max. You can use a Mamble 100 if you can find it, half the price and much bigger than it looks in the photos. Also, very good is the Coco Large found at Little Pet Warehouse. There are a lot of other cages but be careful the bars aren’t too far apart and that the access is good so it’s easy for you to clean!

It isn’t just the size of the cage that matters (though it does) but how it is furnished. You cage should be stuffed with tubes, hammocks, perches, ledges, digging boxes, ropes, cargo nets, and the like.

My point is this: the cage is BIG. You have to have room. And you may need more than one. The furnishings are extensive, you’ll need a ton of them, and yes you need a 14″ or larger wheel (at least, if you want rats from me). I don’t home rats to people unless they provide a 14″ or larger wheel.

Now, for the health-related stuff. First, are you allergic to rats? If you think you might be, please go along to a rat show run by the NFRS or another organisation, walk around and play with the rats (people will be happy to share their rats with you if you explain why you want to hold them) BEFORE collecting a pair of babies and then breaking out in a skin rash! You may be allergic to their bedding, not the rat, which is easily managed by switching bedding.

Next, are you pregnant or are you immunocompromised? Why do I ask? Because many pet rats (or at least some pet rats) may carry hantavirus, which is a virus that is normally not serious but CAN be serious for some people, including those who are immunocompromised. Now, if you have pet rats and later become pregnant, you can ask your doctor about the situation. Your doctor may know little about it, however. Hopefully, it won’t matter too much as you have already been exposed to your rats and so if they carry the virus you already have antibodies. But I wouldn’t go around playing with tons of additional other rats during this time. Also, keep your rats indoors so they don’t come into contact with wild rats that may carry leptospirosis.

If you have children, are they able to cope with a rat bite, should one occur? My rats don’t bite me but if I were try to break up a fight (don’t do that!) I’d have a chance of being bitten and these bites can be serious. This is why I don’t break up rat fights with my hands — ever! Anyway, most rat arguments result in no injury to either rat despite the squeaking. Instead, on those rare occasions when I’ve had to break up rats, I try to distract them, then swoop in with a towel.

All rat bites carry a chance of rat bite fever. And anyway, they hurt. For a small child a rat bite to the finger could be very deep and do lots of damage. The same is true for hamster bites, of course, but I’m just making the point. I like small does for small children for this reason. Smaller jaws, less testosterone. Having said that, I’m always amazed at how cuddly and gentle male rats are. It’s just that if they do bite, they will make a bigger impression.

Have I scared you off? I hope not! Like many breeders, I am doing everything I can to breed really sweet, easy rats. But they aren’t the cheapest pet (apparently the hamster is our cheapest pet!) and they do need daily attention, a big cage, funds for veterinary care, and a little respect by children and adults alike.

You can find loads of information through the National Fancy Rat Society. I suggest you join it and read their forum. A great source of the latest knowledge.

rat breeding

Socialising Pet Rats (especially the shy ones)

I love how confident Blue Apple babies are, but not all rats are the same!

I’ve been hearing of many people who are having difficulty socialising their pet rats. By “socialising” I mean that they want their rats to feel more comfortable being handled, spending time out of their cage, and engaging with different members of the family. Not only do they want their rats to feel more comfortable with all this but to actively seek out human company and enjoy “free-ranging” outside their cage.

The degree to which a rat enjoys people or world outside their cage varies enormously from rat to rat. I breed confident friendly rats and the babies seem to reflect this. However, before I began breeding, I’d get rats from any number of places and I’ve had a lot of skittish rats in my day.

A lot of temperament is due to genetics. Breeders who select for a specific temperament are generally able to achieve it over time, just like any trait. However, handling is critical so a lot of breeders not only handle their babies, but make sure that their adults are regularly handled, too, to ensure that they are comfortable in human company. With patience, most rats become quite friendly.

Here are some quick tips for dealing with shy rats (I will add some more later!):

  1. Start with a small cage! I know I insist on a large cage for homes to which I allocate rats, but sometimes that smaller cage is really important. Ill rats, introductions of strange rats, transporting rats, and helping shy rats overcome their fear are just a few examples.
  2. Be patient. With very shy rats you may have to sit by the cage and offer treats or even just sit by the cage.
  3. Put their favourite hammock by the cage door. That way, when you sit by the cage you are near them.
  4. Let them make the first move as much as you can. Sometimes you will just have to scoop them up and walk around with them (walking is a good way to keep them from jumping from you back into the cage!) for 20 minutes, but even better is when they come to you.
  5. Regular handing. Every day routines are comforting to rats, so get into a routine of handling your rats, interacting with them, or just being near the cage on a daily basis.
  6. help them get into and out of their comfort zone. Don’t push them too hard, but try to extend their experiences just a little bit every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.joinrats.com/EarnTrust/RatsUsingTeeth/

rat care

What do you need for rats?

Those who are new to rats may be surprised by how much “stuff” they need. While breeders don’t all agree on what is necessary for your rats “set-up” (the cage, furnishings, substrate, etc), all of us want enriched environments with plenty of opportunity for the rats to burrow, nest-build, exercise, climb, and play.

I have a comprehensive list of stuff I would like owners of future Blue Apple rats to have before I home out to them. But if you want a general place to find out more about rat care, try some of these resources:

  • The National Fancy Rat Society forum. You can join the NFRS and access every article and forum entry available to breeders. It is worth the membership to do so when, in the middle of the night, your rat is doing something you’re worried about and you want some advice or information in a hurry! 
  • Rat Care UK, The admin/moderators are excellent on that forum, but not everyone on that forum is reliable so do pick and choose. 
  • Isamu Rat Care on Youtube. I love this channel. While, I set up the fabulous bioactive cages like Jemma has, I do use a lot of her tips on creating the most natural and enriched cages I can for my rats. You will learn about what rats really need, how to evaluate different substrates, cages, health issues, and (important!) how to introduce rats to one another. 

Oh, and don’t forget one of my favourite people in the rat world! Alison at RATWISE has made it her mission to help educate owners (and breeders, too!) on the best ways to look after and provide for our beautiful pet rats.

Some cages have wire shelves. While, these do not cause bumblefoot, they are still kind of horrible. And if a rat is not used to them, it’s possible for them to injure a foot or leg. They can be covered lino, but are best removed altogether. If the cage has a wire grid over the floor, remove it as it’s not helpful and will hinder natural behaviours. It will also stink if the bars aren’t coated, and pretty much stink if they are! You want a deep base of substrate (Snowflake Supreme, Bedmax, Littlemax, Aubiose, Green Mile, Finacard or combination) for your rats to be able to dig in. You can find many different substrates at Ratrations.co.uk. You can buy them at equestrian shops, too, but usually in large quantities that you’d have to store safely so they don’t mould or get infested with rodents outside!

rat care

Bringing Down the Cost Of Vet Bills

 

 

I know they are cute and I know they are fun, but rats are also quite expensive. It’s not the initial cost. Most people don’t worry about paying £15 for a rat. It’s not even the cages, though a cage big enough for a trio of rats will run you anything from £60 on up to the hundreds, depending on how big a cage you want. The problem certainly isn’t the food as even the best quality and most expensive food you can buy (for example the Isa-mix with Egg biscuit) will retail at £3.86/kilogram (at www.ratrations.co.uk if you are interested).

 

The problem is the vet bills. I estimate that every rat I own will cost me about £150 in vet bills during the course of their lives. Now, this doesn’t always happen. I have a few 24-month old does that have never seen a vet (yet). On the other hand, both my 20-month girls already needed spaying (about £90 each) and will certainly have at least one visit to the vet during the remainder of their lives, if only for that sad, last time when they are put to sleep.

 

So, why is it that rats cost so much? There are many diseases a rat can get but the one I’ll talk about here are upper respiratory infections. During one of my saving missions with a very “respy” doe of many years ago my vet sighed and told me that he’d done post mortems on pet rats and the state of their lungs made him wonder how they could ever breathe in the first place.

 

So, I put this in a blog just to warn prospective pet owners: pet rats are not that cheap! While it is true they will never need thousands of pounds worth of surgery as a dog with a cruciate ligament problem might, they may very well cost you more than you thought they would. As rats only live a couple of years you may keep bringing in new rats and so you always have more “end of life” scenarios in the horizon.

 

So, what about these upper respiratory infections? Is there any way to manage them less expensively? Yes. Here are a few guidelines for you:

 

1. Avoid illnesses if possible. Sounds obvious, but it isn’t. If you want to avoid heart disease try to feed a well-balanced diet and weigh out, then scatter the feed, across the cage so that rats have to spend more time foraging for it. This allows them the natural behaviour of foraging, helps keep them from getting bored, and keeps them trim. I like the “Isamix” varieties at www.ratrations.co.uk. If you want to us a block feed, try Science Diet, but do definitely remember to give your rats fresh fruit and vegetables (broccoli and salad are often good choices!). Also, keep your rats out of a draft and at a temperature between 18-25 degrees whenever possible. Do not put them the cage by a window as you may not feel the draft yourself but they can! Also, keep your rats on dust-free and/or kiln-dried substrate. Aubiose, Bedmax, Finacard, just to name a few. This will help reduce the most common respiratory illness of rats: upper respiratory infections. Finally, stay away from your own rats for at least 2 hours after being in close proximity of rats that may be ill (for example, in pet shops, where many rats being sold are not particularly well).

2. Treat early. Treat your rat with obvious signs of a budding respiratory infection before it reaches critical stage. This will be cheaper for you and much better for the rat. If your rat is sneezing more than it should, making a “clicking” noise and showing red discharge around its eyes (this is porphyrin, secreted from the Harderian gland, and is a kind of mucous), it is already stressed out by illness. A trip to the vet for antibiotics is in order. You may not see all these signs, by the way. Some rats don’t get “porphy” with illness. But you will hear noises. And if you hear a kind of wet “gurgly” sound your rat is quite ill. Swift measures may save him his life and you a bundle by avoiding out-of-hours fees for your sick friend.

3. Get on good terms with your vet. My vet knows me and my rats really well. I’ve been charged about half what I’d likely be charged for one of my dogs simply because my vet knows how responsible I am with my rats and that they matter to me. He once removed a mammary tumour for just over £50. Why? Because he knows that many rat owners can’t or won’t pay twice that (or more!) for a rat’s mammary tumour removal and with the surgery rats can and do recover very well. He cares about the rats and he supports owners who go that extra mile. Find a vet like that (I know, they are like gold dust!). You can also bargain with the vet. Literally, ask if they can do the surgery for less money — why not? If the practice allows flexibility, you might get lucky!

4. Learn about rat illnesses before they occur. While it is great to read all about rat toys and cage set ups, it is equally important to read about rat illness. There is a booklet called Common Diseases of the Fancy Rat written by Ann Storey, president of the National Fancy Rat Society in the UK, that you get when you join the club. It is definitely worth having! Order it from nfrs.org. And read the websites. Here are a few all from rat expert, Jemma Fettes, whose website is very instructive and what I consider required reading for any rat owner:   Respiratory Illness, Heart Disease , Hind Leg Degeneration, Non-cancerous tumours, Abcesses, Cancerous tumours , Parasites.

Another great source for all health issues regarding rats is www.ratguide.com

5. Accept that despite everything you do, your rats will eventually get ill! Hey, it’s not your fault. It’s rats! Do you think I’ve never had a sneezing rat or a rat with a zymbals glad tumour? Of course, I have. Sometimes a sneeze is only a sneeze, but sometimes it’s a trip to the vet. As for costs associated with breeding…well, let’s just say my emergency fund for rat veterinary bills gets larger when I expect a litter.

 

My advice to any animal owner is to keep an emergency fund for veterinary costs. My dogs are insured but for my rats I keep a pot of “rat money” that I only use for vet bills. By treating early and avoiding those emergency out-of-hours fees, plus keeping aside “rat money” you’ll save yourself a lot of stress, too!

 

Finally, don’t go to crazy lengths to save very old rats. I’ve done it and I haven’t always been successful anyway (though sometimes, yes!). However, your rat is very old and is no longer eating and drinking and getting the quality of life he deserves, it is far kinder to ask the vet to humanely put the rat to sleep. I have a way of making that (slightly) less stressful for the rat. When mine are very ill I keep them in a “hospital cage”, which is only one level (the exact cage is a Savic Ruffy but an “Alaska” or similar would be equally good and cost you less). I provide thick sleeping “cubes” that tend to hold the warmth better than large, thinner hammocks. When it is time to say goodbye, I take the whole cube with the rat inside and put it in a carrier. I then transport to the vet and ask the vet to lower the rat in its cube into the tank when they put it down. That way the rat is in its secure home and less stressed by the experience.

 

It’s the best I’ve come up with so far, though I’ve had different situations that have meant rats have died while sleeping on my chest or, on occasion, passed peacefully in a huddle with their cagemates.

rat behaviour,rat breeding

How To Introduce New Rats

Very briefly, here is a little advice on introducing baby rats (kittens) to resident adult rats:

For years I dreaded introducing rats to one another. Or rather, I didn’t mind too much introducing does to new babies but I was scared to death of introducing male rats. The babies look so SMALL compared to the adults and even the most mellow human-loving buck can be difficult to introduce to new babies.

Adult-adult introductions are quite tricky sometimes, and unfettered adult male rats do not take well to strangers. A perfectly peaceable buck will turn into a a puffed up, adrenaline-fed hellraiser the moment he sees an intruder and new rats can inflict serious injury to one another, even death. Luckily, introducing babies to adult bucks is usually okay.

Timing is important. Let’s start with the easiest: babies. Kitten-to-kitten introductions are generally very easy. You can introduce babies from different litters at any time up until ten or twelve weeks without much trouble. Breeders typically mix eight week old rats from one litter with a similar age from another litter without any need for special introductions. The same may be true with 10-14 weeks rats. Though the 14-week old is likely going to pull rank with younger kittens, you won’t usually see a problem.

However, by the time they are juveniles, you should be a little more respectful of the need for measured introductions. Some people will introduce young rats on neutral ground — a sofa or dry bathtub on which a towel has been laid. The idea is that such a space is nobody’s territory and therefore the rats may simply get used to each other without feeling any need to defend.

I don’t do it this way. I go straight to the “carrier method” which I’ll detail shortly. But first, let me tell you what you will hear from the days before we figured out the carrier method. It’s advice you’ll receive and you should largely ignore which involves “neutral territory” or bath tubs, Please don’t do this:

The famous “rat lady”, Debbie Ducommun writes that “with time and patience almost any rat will accept a newcomer” with only the occasion rat requiring spaying or neutering in order to become more accepting. The reason for the neutering is to bring the level of hormones down. Apparently, territorial aggression is often transformed with a sudden knock to the gonads.”

I do not agree with this advice that introductions should be  gradual, starting on neutral territory, then followed by introductions in a relatively large cage. Ms. Decommun recommends “cleaning out the larger cage completely and rearrange the furnishings so it appears to be a new cage. Trim the back toenails of the rats to minimize scratching in a scuffle. Put vanilla extract or perfume on all the rats to make them smell the same. Then put the rats in this cage.”

None of this is good advice. It’s old advice, maybe the best we once had at one time and she is right  that the best time to start introductions is when the rats are sleepy (so the middle of the day). I also agree with her that if fighting is taking place over a period of weeks you may have to give up with two rats ever being friends. However, my preferred method of introductions is one called the “Carrier Method”. I didn’t make it up — I’m not sure who did — but it hasn’t failed me with any of the doe-to-doe introductions I’ve tried, nor with introducing adult bucks to baby bucks (10 weeks old). I haven’t tied adult buck to adult buck, except on reintroductions, which is a slightly different situation.

So what do you do with the carrier method? You put the rats to be introduced, whether it is a single individual to a single individual or a group to a group, into the smallest cage or carrier that will fit all of them. When I say “fit”, the rats need to be in as small a space as you can find that allows them to be shoulder to shoulder and still lie down. In the case of 2-3 rats, a small carrier will do. For 5 does, you may need a large carrier. For 10 rats, you’ll need a small hamster cage.

It should look crowded. A little like this:

Once you’ve put them all in, walk around with the carrier.  Rats that are unsure tend not to find, so usually they won’t do much while in “transit”. Keep them moving until they seem more relaxed. If you want to extend this time, put them in a car. The motion of the car is likely to keep them quiet as well.

Later, you can just sit down with the carrier near you. Hear squeaking and fussing? Walk around with the carrier to distract them from this. You may see a rat pinning down another rat, or forcibly grooming another so that the poor victim is squeaking lightly. That is to be expected. But as long as the one being pounced upon submits to the other, they will soon be fine. If a rat is really being aggressive with another, you may need to intervene. Do not do this with your bare hands! Get a water spray or a towel or oven gloves or anything, but do not ever break up a rat fight without protection. It is a sure way to get bitten.

Once it seems they are fine in the carrier you can add a mouse-sized water bottle (I say mouse-sized as it is the only thing that is going to stay in the holes of the carrier, most likely).

Add food scattered on floor. Do not give any treats or anything that too exciting to them that they will fight over but give them much more of their regular food than normal. You don’t want them hungry.

Some people keep them in a carrier for a few hours or overnight. I’ve had mine in a  carrier for as little as 5 hours to as long as 12 hours before moving them up.  I’ve been known to sleep with a carrier next to my bed.  In fact, I have many carriers in different sizes and I put them into an identical carrier every 12 hours so they are clean. Only once I’ve seen they are bored as hell (approximately 1 day ) do I move to the next level, a really small hamster cage. From there it might be another day (or two or three) before they get moved to a single story rat cage like a Savic Ruffy. No hammocks. A day later, I try a hammock, then another, then maybe a little house. Once they are sleeping together and look like nothing much is stirring I move to a larger cage ( my SRS, but only half of it. I am making it sound like I do this every week. I do it about 3-4 times a year, when I breed. You can go much faster if it is a totally nothing event , but some people take a week to get from carrier to normal rat cage with no hammocks.

Rats will play fight and will have occasional grumbles but it is natural for them to live in groups and they usually get on. If you have a particularly difficult situation, you may need to create alternative groupings or even neuter/spay a rat or rats. However, generally speaking, peace reigns.

Be warned that you may have to “reintroduce” rats on occasion. For example, if you’ve had one out of the group for days or weeks at a time or when the “alpha” rat dies. You also need to remember that not all rats will get along. Imagine living in a cage with someone you were afraid of! That isn’t a sustainable situation and sometimes introductions fail. If so, keep two cages. You may be able to try again later.

rat behaviour,rat breeding

Taming Baby Rats

People get rats from lots of different places and they aren’t always the tamest of rats. There is no point telling someone who has just picked up a couple of unhandled babies that they ought to have looked for a breeder who selects for calm temperament and handles their baby rats daily. First, they probably tried that but didn’t want to wait 4-6 months for baby rats from these (frankly rare) breeders who handle daily. Second, it’s too late!

However, the good news is that for most rats, taming is just a matter of time and patience. While it may not seem easy, it is definitely possible to bring a rat around from a skittish scared baby to a great pet. In fact, some of the nicest adult rats I’ve had started out as not very confident babies.

There are different ideas about taming rats. Whatever method you choose, I’d suggest that early on (immediately) stop chasing your rats around a cage. The more you chase, the more they’ll run and you are encouraging them into a habit of running away from you. Also, while you know you aren’t going to hurt them, you are associating your hand with fear and this actually works against you.

If you have fearful babies (or even older rats) you might start with a smaller cage than the big (I hope!) one to which they will eventually graduate. If your babies aren’t too skittish, you could try a Ruffy Savic or a Ferplast Mary , for example. But really, any relatively small cage that is advertised as suitable for two rats (but frankly, is not suitable for two adults, though great for taming babies). Don’t worry that you will never use this cage again after you’ve tamed your rats – you will! Such small cages are great as “hospital” cages for the sick or elderly or for taking a few rats away with you overnight or to a rat show. Yes, I said rat show. The NFRS has many shows throughout the year and you may like to go along and even enter your own rats – they are quite fun events!

One method for taming rats is to gradually and softly get your rats used to you. This is what I do. People have various names for this method, but the idea is that you help the rats to gradually think of you, your smell, you gaze and your hands as the precursors to Good Things To Come! Gradually get closer and closer to them, always stopping before they freak out. Eventually, they will no longer afraid of you being there. However, this  can take anything from 5 minutes to 5 days.

I’ve done this for hours every day with older rats who otherwise may have bitten me and it works very well. I’ve also done it with babies. I can attest that eventially your rats will come to trust you, but you do need to clock up the hours, allowing the rats to gradually build confidence. It takes time. It takes patience. It is by far the most humane way you can get your rats to like you and associate you with all that they love.

However, make sure you start off with serious motivators. While a terrified rat will not eat (usually) you may find that a greedy rat is willing to take a risk to get to something very yummy. It’s hard for a rat to totally ignore the offer of “junk food” by way of digestive biscuits or small bites of cake. Start with a fair chunk so that they can take it and run further into their cage and gradually build up to cake crumbs they have to lick from your palm. Smear your hands with treats like yoghurt or pudding for them to lick off, that sort of thing.

You can then graduate to putting the treats on  your arms, etc until the rat feels confident walking onto your body to retrieve them. After initial reluctance, rats almost invariably find the food irresistible and associate you with good things. It is very satisfying to watch the process unfold.  Over time you can hold the rat and allow it to hop back into its cage when it likes. Before you know it, your rat readily walks out of the cage onto you and forgets all about being scared. You won’t even need treats anymore as your rat’s natural curiosity means they come check you out whenever you give them the chance. However, at some point you may want to practice picking up your rat and putting it down over and over and over so that if you have to do there is no question of the rat running away.

The other popular method for taming rats is total immersion – sometimes known  as the confidence method. In this case, you take your rat out and handle it for twenty minutes at a time regardless of how it feels about the situation. This is a great method for babies who aren’t really all that scared in the first place. But it’s easy to overwhelm them so be careful. You have to always be thinking from the rat’s point of view. I know you love your rats — but do they love you? And is there anything in this immersion process that is the least bit fun for them? The answer should be yes.

If your rats are particularly nutty, even the size of a Savic Ruffy or Mary cage being used as a “training cage” is probably too big. They may still be running away from you.  If so, do your best to catch them and put them into an animal carrier for the duration of your taming sessions, which should take place a few times a day. Again, even if you are using the “immersion” process be as respectful as you can of the fear the animal is feeling. You need to be sure you aren’t making things worse.

Inside a carrier, there really isn’t a lot of room to run, so they are well and truly stuck. This has the advantage that you can pick up a rat without cornering it. On the other hand, you’ve kind of already cornered it so it may be scared to death. At least the act of running, itself, has been eliminated which may mean the stress is less for the poor rat. Hard to say. However, you may be cornering it so that all it feels it can do is bite you. The rat will soon learn that biting works really well to get rid of an unwanted hand — and now you are in worse trouble than when you started!

Most babies are not going to bite you during the “total immersion” method (though don’t bet on it). When using this method, take the carrier with the rats inside to a secure room and stick your hand into the carrier for 5-minute stretches until they settle down with the notion of a hand. Beware they may nibble your hand investigating whether it is food (let them).   Nibbles from babies are one thing. Fear bites from adults are quite another. I prefer the softly-softly method for adults when possible for this reason and am more likely to take a few chances with the babies. Having said that, you really don’t want to scare rats during their most sensitive periods (for example from age 6 weeks to about 12 weeks). Make sure the babies are more excited that afraid and that every session with you is as positive and rewarding as possible.

But back to babies. Now that you’ve put your hand in and out many times and the rats are tolerating it, you can do one of several things. You can take out a single rat and try to keep it in your hands, allowing it to run from one hand to the other for a period of time up to about 20 minutes. Or you can purposely move it from one hand to another, which will not be difficult. Once you see a little improvement (this can take up to twenty minutes) swap it for the other rat, and so on.

When picking up your rats, remember to scoop the rat from underneath, and never pick it up by the tail. I know you will hear of people who “tail” rats (pick them up by the base of the tail) but that is not a great way to make friends with a rat. In fact, you could be bitten.

The use of a cloth or light blanket or something the rat can hid under, or even better yet “bonding” pouch which you wear around your neck, can help your rat feel safe. Using a bonding pouch, you can put a couple of babies in at a time. However, if you are using your bare hands (apparently a faster method, though not if you are at risk of the rat jumping) only have a single rat out at a time.

Whichever process you choose, or whichever combination of processes you choose, always remember that the rat is doing his best. You can’t ask a rat to try harder when they are trying their hardest already. The poor rat doesn’t know you want to love him. He thinks you want to kill him. So be patient – most rats do come around!

For more information and an excellent step-by-step description of the “immersion method” have a look at Isamurat.co.uk’s page on the subject.

rat care

How Much Does It Cost To Keep Rats?

People often imagine that rats are inexpensive pets. Who can blame them when there are articles all over the net that make such bogus claims as “All you’ll need to buy is a 20-gallon aquarium or a similarly sized wire cage ($30+), some bedding and toys, and food, which will cost you about $40 per year” ?Not only are these figures inaccurate, but a 20-gallon tank won’t be big enough for a pair of rats, let alone a trio. In fact, you shouldn’t keep them in tanks at all.

The truth is, rats are quite expensive. They are cheap to buy as babies and their food doesn’t even begin to compare to the cost of, say, feeding a dog. The cage or cages you will need are large and expensive, of course, but  you may get lucky and find a good second hand cage on Ebay or a terrific Facebook page for cages called Cage Spotters which lists cages all over Britain the are being sold second-hand.

 

So how come I say they are expensive? Veterinary bills. I cannot tell you how many owners are shocked by the number of veterinary visits required by their pet rats, let alone the surgery costs when required. Most rats will sail through their first year of life without needing veterinary attention, although there are no guarantees. However, at some point between 12-24 months your rat may very well develop a respiratory infection and require antibiotics. None of the antibiotics needed are legally available without a veterinary prescription. Some of them treat one kind of infection and some another. All of them have to be given as quickly as possible after symptoms develop if they are to be effective. A veterinary visit plus the cost of the medicine will range but I’d imagine £50.00 would do the trick at today’s prices.

 

Okay, £50 may not seem expensive. It isn’t, considering that any animal you have may require a veterinary visit. But rats also tend to develop tumours. Many of these tumours are benign (mammary tumours are almost always so) and can be operated on and resolved. However, you must ask your vet early on how much they charge for such procedures as the prices vary enormously! I’d expect to pay between £60-£110 for mammary tumour removal unless the tumour were particularly tricky and then it might be more.

 

Does are more prone to mammary tumours but bucks can get them because even though they don’t have nipples they do have mammary tissue. Bucks also tend to get abscesses, which may or may not require veterinary attention. They sometimes need neutering (I’ve not had that problem as my bucks are big softies, but not everyone is so lucky!), and the does sometimes need spaying due to pyometra or other complications of the reproductive system (this will cost between £80-£110 at my vet).

 

None of these number seem high until you consider that the animal lives an average of 2-2.5 years. In fact, the average age of death of a male rat in the UK is  Once your rats have reached the end of their lives you will say goodbye to them, which means you may need another appointment with the vet for a “pts” (put to sleep). You then buy a couple of more rats and the cycle continues!

 

I estimate that every rat you have will cost you about between £100-£150 in vet bills. If you have two rats you are looking at quite a sum over the course of their short lives. How short you might ask? Well, a pet survey in the UK found that most rats live on average for 1.8 years. Most of my rats live between 21 and 27 months. That’s it. I know people say they have rats that live four or five years but I’ve not found that to be the case. So, having spent all this money on spaying or tumours or whatever, you aren’t going to have years of a healthy pet. They will die and then,  if you are like me and you are hooked on rats, you’ll only go and buy another trio!

 

So, while it is true that rats are far less expensive than dogs, they aren’t cheap! Well-meaning owners are conned into believing pet rats will be an inexpensive option only to be shocked when they can’t afford vital veterinary care that their rat requires.

 

What about insurance? A great idea exceptional that not all insurers will cover rats. the one I know of is Exotic Direct. They would be delighted to insure your rats but they charge £15 per rat per month. You’d do better putting the money aside, I imagine. If you do find cheaper pet insurance for your rats, can you let me know? I’d love to tell others!

 

There are rats that will cost you very little and die peacefully in their sleep without having ever shown a sign of illness, but they are rare. Arm yourself with the cash necessary to look after your rats without worry and enjoy them without the stress of worrying how to pay the bill if they need the vet. And if you do run into financial difficulty, look up the PDSA before you have a veterinary emergency. The PDSA recognises that people keep rats in pairs at minimum and will cover some of the costs of veterinary treatment if you qualify.

 

I really feel for you  if you can’t afford a pet. The longing to connect with animals is very great. Rat owners like me are always looking for those who love rats to help them out when they are away on holiday or work. You might be able to help out a breeder. Join the NFRS and go to rat shows, meet breeders and soon you’ll be in demand to help out and you’ll get LOTS of time with rats and baby rats as well as a little money to store away for your own.

rat care

How to Breed for Good Temperament

All breeders try to breed for a “good temperament” but not all breeders agree on what a good temperament is! Some breed for rats that are active and always on the move. Others may wish for “lap rats” that tend to be more mellow and cuddly. All breeders agree they want their rats to be happy, relaxed animals. They want rats that enjoy interacting with humans and other rats without any concerns about injury.

Genetics influence temperament in all sorts of ways. I recall reading something from  long-time breeder, Jemma Fettes, of Isamu Stud, a very well known rat stud in the show world. She talked about how an orphan rat was put into a group of babies and grew up among them with (presumably) the same maternal care as the biological offspring to the mother. Even though he was raised exactly as the others, his temperament was far different. He wasn’t a “bad” rat, but a very active, cheeky rat, and far more trouble than his adopted brothers and sisters! Jemma was convinced the difference in his temperament was due to his genetics, not his environment.

When it comes to rat temperament, epigenetics come into  play.  That is, not everything about the DNA of a rat result in a particular temperament.  “Mother rats spend a lot of time licking, grooming, and nursing their pups. Others seem to ignore their pups. Highly nurtured rat pups tend to grow up to be calm adults, while rat pups who receive little nurturing tend to grow up to be anxious…Through her licking behavior, a mother rat can write information onto her pups’ DNA in a way that completely bypasses eggs and sperm. In a sense, her nurturing behavior tells her pups something about the world they will grow up in. Mom’s behavior actually programs the pups’ DNA in a way that will make them more likely to succeed.” (Genetics Science Learning Centre).

In fact, researchers at McGill University have determined that maternal care in the form of licking and grooming “changes hundreds of genes” in the babies at once.  In their laboratories, rats that were “poorly licked” were anxious and harder to handle. Those who were licked a lot were easy to handle. The tendency toward high levels of maternal care may be genetically linked, of course, but the point is that stress responses can be changed in a single generation. This has important ramifications for breeders. While they are unlikely to lose “type” or “colour” quickly, they can lose temperament simply because a doe isn’t attending to her offspring properly.

Having rats with low levels of anxiety is important. Anxious rats are more likely to bite. They are also more likely to become ill, lead shorter lives, and suffer from problems with mites. It’s important to breed relaxed rats and I know all breeders are trying to do so but understanding the mechanism for good temperament is trickier than it looks. And while breeders can do their best to socialise baby rats, handling them and creating a good environment for them with plenty of “enrichment” (toys and climbing and foraging opportunities), it looks like the basics of temperament depend largely on the mum!

Then there is the other issue – even if your rats LOVE people, are they bossy to other rats in the cage? Most groups of rats have a kind of pecking order, but there are some rats that are just a bit rough with others (or downright aggressive). Most breeders would not breed rats that are aggressive, but sometimes the rat will start the behaviour after being bred (frustrating!) or have never even seen the behaviour before and then – bang! – there it is.

The breeders I know and care about in the UK are all breeding the best they can for good temperament, but rats can be…well…..rats!

rat behaviour

Does or Bucks (girls or boys)?

When it comes to deciding whether to get bucks or does there is much to consider. Among rat enthusiasts, the debate on which gender is “better” makes for lively debate. Both bucks and does make great pets. I have to admit to loving both does and bucks equally, though it is a lot easier to keep only one gender because you can get all your rats out at one time daily rather than having two different play times, one for the boys and one for the girls. So, if you want to make your life easier, stick to does or to bucks. If you want both genders, however, I totally understand. In fact, there are some nice cages that will allow you to keep both sexes easily enough as the cage divides into half with an opaque tray between the two.

There are a lot of generalisations about the differences between bucks and does and we may as well start with them. So, true or false?

True of False? Bucks Are Lazy; Does Are Lively

There is some truth in this! A female rat, or doe, is often smaller, sleeker, and more active than her brother. While everything comes down to individual personality, does tend to be far “busier” inside their cages, racing up ladders, crossing ropes, building elaborate nests, etc. By contrast, boys tend to do as little as possible to create a nest, then flop down and sleep the day away. But at night, things are different! Boys will want to come out and play just as much as the girls will! they may not play as fast or for as long, but my boys race over me as I watch a movie, sit on my books and explore my eyeglasses while I’m trying to read, jump from one shelf to another just for fun. Girls are faster (no contest there) and tend not to sit on your lap as much as boys, but all this changes with age.

By 18 months, many of my girls will slow down enough to sit on my lap. The boys at 18 months will probably cuddle longer and be less likely to “race” anywhere!

My girls will frequently climb up my leg to get to me. My boys might come over to my foot, think about climbing, then change their minds.

If you have children who want to play with the rats during the day, girls are probably a better option, though the boys may learn that playtime is during the day and may wake up especially just to have fun.

True of False? Bucks Smell More 

In my experience, this is true. They’re bigger; they eat more; they have more oil in their coats. I don’t mind this about bucks but if you are someone who really hates the smell of rats I’d go for smallish does. Does tend to weigh between 350–500 grams, but can be more! Male rats range from between 450–700 grams. I have heard of a couple that top 850 grams.

Another point: if you are mildly allergic to rats you may get on okay with does but not with bucks.

Caution: bucks mark more, which means they dribble urine sometimes. If this drives you crazy, go for does.

True of False? Bucks Cannot He Introduced to Other Bucks

Not exactly true, no.  An adult buck will usually accept a couple of baby boys, ages 9-14 weeks, without difficulty as long as the introductions are done correctly. But introducing adult bucks to adult bucks is trickier. I’ve known people who have done it without any problems but please remember that rats who are strangers to one another can fight. The injuries can be serious or even fatal.

Those who are successful at introducing adult bucks to adult bucks almost always use the “carrier method”, about which I will write shortly. However, I personally do not like to introduce adult bucks to one another. I’m too concerned about injury.

By contrast, I have successfully introduced adult does to adult does with little to no fuss. I use the carrier method and watch for any signs of trouble. All my intros have been incredibly easy. This may be due to the rats I have, but I think it is true to say that does are generally easier to introduce to one another.

Everything depends upon individual personalities, of course.

True of False? Does Are Indifferent To Their Owners

Completely false! Makes me mad when I hear this! Does adore their owners! They just won’t sit in your lap for very long until they are a bit older. Have a look at Missy in this video and you’ll see that does can be just as much of “lap rats” as boys. However, everything depends on the age of the rats, how much you handle them, how much time they have to explore, and the “line” from which you buy your rats. Some lines produce more active rats than others. I am breeding for calm docile rats that make great pets. I don’t mind if they never win in the variety classes at shows — it doesn’t bother me at all.

I might add that bucks are pretty darn active as youngsters and that while some are licky, lovey “squishes”,  some don’t want to be “lap rats”. Again, it all comes down to the individual.

True of False? Bucks Are More Likely to Be Aggressive

Apparently, this is true though in my own experience, my bucks aren’t territorial or at all aggressive. They don’t bite me and I’m always reaching into their cages and messing about with “their” stuff. Both bucks and does tend to taste your toes — I have no idea why — but they don’t bite them as such. They may decide to give your fingernails a manicure, too. This amuses some, annoys other. Does will sometimes get a bit shark-like just after giving birth (though often not). Bucks begin “play fighting” at about 5 weeks of age and will occasionally get into scraps with each other as adults. Does do the same, but at a lower level.

Do not try to break up a rat fight with your hands as you could get bitten in the process. The problem with rat bits is that they HURT. And bucks are bigger so,if you were to get bitten, it may be more serious.

True of False? Does Live Longer

Statistically, this is true In general, does live a couple months longer than bucks. This may be because bucks tends to gain more weight than does in their later lives. There’s a wonderful website with all sorts of statistics on rats. Among the various graphs and charts is one that shows how rats pretty much continue to gain weight throughout their lives, with the boys being more likely to become obese unless their diets are carefully controlled.

True of False? Does Have Bigger Vet Bills

Probably true, unless you have to neuter your male rat in which case, they will likely cost as much as a doe.  A does may need a spay or to have mamary tumours removed. Some rats never seem to get mammary tumours. Others get enormous ones. Bucks can get them, too, but are less likely to do so. I’ve had two does spayed recently and both bounced back really nicely and are now genderless, happy middle-aged rats who I hope live good long lives!